China backs WHO-led review of COVID-19 outbreak during annual meet

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Geneva [Switzerland], May 19 (ANI): Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged all countries across the globe to support developing nations and pledged USD 2 billion in aid over two years to help them respond effectively to the pandemic.

As the Chinese President opened the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) annual assembly on Monday via video after weeks of acrimony between China and the US over a proposal to investigate the origins of COVID-19, Xi’s speech signalled a growing sense of confidence on China’s part, The Washington Post reported. For weeks, China had been anticipating and bitterly opposing, a proposal from Western countries to conduct an international probe into the pandemic’s origins.

But during the annual meeting, China, believed to be the birthplace of the deadly contagion, in a turnaround, agreed to an independent evaluation of the coronavirus response — once the pandemic is over.

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China’s opposition has melted in recent days as international support for an inquiry grew to include Russia, Turkey and European and African countries, and as drafts of the proposed resolution showed a focus on international collaboration to manage the pandemic, with relatively limited emphasis on questioning its source, according to the Post.

US President Donald Trump was also invited to speak at the assembly, but declined the invitation, two officials, one at the WHO and one at the White House, were quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who represented the US at the virtual meeting, used the platform to accuse the WHO of allowing China to cover up the outbreak.

“We must be frank about one of the primary reasons that this outbreak spun out of control,” he said.

“There was a failure by this organisation to obtain the information that the world needed and that failure cost many lives,” Azar added.
Later Monday, Trump echoed his remarks, calling the WHO “a puppet of China”.

In an address that contained repeated references to China’s support for multilateral institutions and developing countries, particularly in Africa, Xi appeared to be differentiating himself from Trump, at a time when China and the US are duelling over economic primacy and global influence.
Any vaccines produced by China would also be considered a global public good and shared, Xi said. He called on countries to support the critical work of the WHO and Tedros, after both were accused by Trump of deferring to the Chinese government.

Trump ordered a temporary freeze on WHO funding in April and said on Twitter this weekend that he is weighing how to proceed.

Although Xi did not specify a recipient for his USD 2 billion pledge, that amount would overshadow the amount of WHO funding that the US promised before that aid was frozen last month. During the two-year period over 2018 and 2019, the US committed to contributing about USD 893 million to the WHO budget, which totalled USD 5.6 billion, according to funding data published by the agency.

“At this critical juncture, to support the WHO is to support international cooperation and the battle to save lives,” Xi said.

“China takes as its responsibility not only the lives and health of its citizens but global public health,” he added.

The Chinese government has repeatedly characterised the pandemic as a crisis that is global in nature and called any targeted inquiry that draws undue attention to COVID-19’s roots in Wuhan a ploy by Washington and its allies to make it a scapegoat.

Chinese officials and the state media also responded furiously last month after Australian officials suggested that agencies such as the WHO, which have relatively limited powers, should be able to swiftly dispatch investigators to emergency sites.

However, a draft resolution, submitted by the European Union on Monday and supported by more than 100 nations, does not mention Wuhan or China.

It asks the WHO to work with other UN agencies to “identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts”, the newspaper reported.

The document does not propose a review to identify missteps in how countries handled the outbreak and is instead forward-looking. It calls on the WHO to arrange “scientific and collaborative field missions” to help prevent similar future outbreaks.

It also appears to rule out the possibility that the virus was man-made or experimented upon — a possibility that US officials have raised but that is considered unlikely by most epidemiologists. (ANI)

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